The opening scene of “Blowback” sees a Sri Lankan chemist being dangled upside-down off the balcony of a high rise building by a Ukrainian gangster. From then on, things get somewhat hectic and more than a little tense.
“Blowback” is the follow up to John Lake’s previous novel “Hot Knife” and forms the second part of a Leeds 6 Trilogy that fellow Leeds author David Peace has dubbed “Yorkshire Noir”. For those of you who missed it, “Hot Knife” was a relentless joyride of a novel set in and around the petty criminal underclass of Leeds. It signaled the arrival of Lake as a razor-sharp storyteller, and, unusually for such dark subject matter, one with a massively human heart. Because for all the talk of grit and brutality that usually accompanies an inner city crime novel, Lake’s characters love and care for each other with such fierce protective pride that the stakes are raised far beyond the simple threat of violence, however terrifyingly close it encroaches. These are flawed but essentially decent men and women struggling to make a life for themselves under difficult circumstances. These are people you know and love, and your heart beats hard for them as Lake cranks up the tension with every turn of the page.
The story takes place three years after the end of “Hot Knife”. The protagonists of that book, Kelly and Bea, have fled Leeds 6 and it’s attendant dealers, druggies and dead ends and moved to a quieter side of town. Kelly is off the smack and fit and working again, Bea has knocked the dealing on the head and is attempting to keep their home life on some sort of even keel. The dangerous company they kept three years ago has largely disappeared, along with the track marks and the bad memories.
John Lake has a real gift for writing about ordinary people plunged into extraordinary circumstances.
All that changes when Bea finds a big bag of pills under her son’s bed; pills which, unfortunately for them, belong to a major black market mover, who wants them back, and double quick. Because these are not your bog standard Class A’s; these are not E’s or LSD or any other letter you’ll find in Leeds. These little fellers are stamped with the initials of their maker – DMT – and they have the power to transport a person into a waking nightmare of the living dead, where silver track-suited cigar smoking DJ’s transport you to the summit of Soviet buildings and lay the secrets of the constellations open to your terrified gaze. Which, you have to admit, beats dribbling on the couch or hugging strangers in warehouses. No wonder their owners are keen to get them back
Things take a much more serious twist when Bea’s lad and his pal get kidnapped by a specially flown in contract killer who goes by the deceptively workman-like name of The Carpenter. His methods are probably best left to the imagination, but suffice to say you’ll never listen to “We’ve Only Just Begun” in quite the same way again.
There are various other back stories and sub-plots woven around this compelling cat and mouse drama, the most intriguing of which centres on two of the characters involvement in the 1986 conflict in Afghanistan, as part of the Soviet troops who were sent in to fight the Mujahideen. Lake’s evocation of the casual horrors of that conflict are among the best passages in the book, providing a fascinating insight into the psychological make up of men who later found themselves on different sides of another war, years later on the streets of West Yorkshire.
John Lake has a real gift for writing about ordinary people plunged into extraordinary circumstances. “Blowback”, like it’s predecessor, is edgy and relentless and the pace hardly lets up for a second. If you’re a stranger to the streets of Leeds 6 and beyond, read “Hot Knife” and then get a copy of “Blowback”. And then wait to see what fresh mayhem John Lake wreaks on the lives of Kelly and Bea in the final part of his Yorkshire Noir trilogy. It’s a tense and sometimes traumatic trip, but you’ll come out the other end nothing less than exhilarated.
Blowback is out now, follow the link below to buy a copy...
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